New homes built to help homeless problem

What could be the solution to Dallas County's homeless problem is under construction right now.

A gated neighborhood with 50 homes is being built at Hickory Crossing and South Malcolm X Boulevard. The neighborhood will have one of the best skyline views in the city.

But the 400-square foot homes, complete with kitchens, living rooms and bedrooms, will cost far less. In fact, the rent could be as low as $5 depending on income.

Unlike typical housing for the homeless, the leases won't expire and no rehab-style programs will be required.

Larry James, the CEO of CitySquare, first had the vision for the neighborhood, the Cottages at Hickory Crossing, 10 years ago.

Now, the idea of solving homelessness by simply providing homes with no strings attached is gaining traction around the country.

“I'm not calling people to be Mother Teresa,” said James. “Look at the economics and they're going to be happy.”

“We have identified a list of 300 offenders who we know by name who are the top consumers of the service dollars in the county,” said James.  

James says the 300 homeless people who go to the hospital and jail the most cost the county $40,000 each on average.

He estimates housing them at Hickory Crossing will cost $15,000 a year, saving the county $25,000 for each homeless person it houses.

Among the 50 houses in the neighborhood, that's a $1.2 million savings every single year.

Cecilia Terrell, 50, lives in a tent under I-45 in an area known as Tent City.

She put in the first application for the neighborhood.

“It’s like a miracle,” she said.

Terrell is already vulnerable because of medical conditions including bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia.

The exposure of living on the streets for more than a decade makes her a frequent hospital patient.

“After my divorce, I didn't have any help,” said Terrell.

“I'm hoping by doing this, we're going to prove this is a system that needs to be done elsewhere,” said Keith Ackerman with the Cottages at Hickory Crossing.

The $7 million project is both privately and publically funded.

Only the chronically homeless with mental illnesses qualify; a group traditionally disqualified from housing.